Steelman, L.A., and Rutkowski, K.A., (2004), ‘Moderators of employee reactions to negative feedback’, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 6-18.
Steelman & Rutkowski’s (2004) paper provides a valuable contribution to the area of performance feedback as it examines moderators of employee reactions to negative feedback. This is an important area to explore, as not delivering negative feedback can be extremely disadvantageous for both the individual and the organization. Concepts such as the “halo effect” where a manager rates the individual highly because of a one-off high performance which masks mediocre performance over the rest of the appraisal period and the “Mum effect” where managers withhold negative or undesirable information significantly impede learning and development for the individual, which can then cost the company considerably in terms of desired results linking to the strategic objectives.
Moreover, this has the potential to impact upon employee’s self-perception and how they receive future feedback about their performance. This is because unless they receive accurate feedback on their performance in real-time they will keep making inferences and assumptions about how they are performing and are often met with disappointment and frustration when they discover their perception is not aligned with their managers. Importantly, Clampitt (2005) notes that a manager “cannot not give performance feedback” because if the manager doesn’t give explicit feedback, they will infer it, and continue to perform at standards they deem acceptable to themselves. Hence illustrating why open communication and regular feedback is so important and obstructions to learning and development such as the ‘halo’ and ‘Mum’ effect need to be avoided at all costs.
Subsequently, the results from Steelman & Rutkowski’s (2004) survey which surveyed a total of 405 staff across two manufacturing companies indicated that favourable characteristics can in fact mitigate the negative consequences of unfavourable feedback. For instance, it found that employees are the most motivated to make changes to their performance when negative feedback is delivered from a source they consider to be credible and of a high quality. It is additionally important that the feedback is delivered in a considerate, meaningful manner which includes providing factual information and taking the time to work with the individual to set goals in order to improve future performance.
Hence these findings are important to consider when delivering feedback in the working environment. It is crucial to be aware of various effects such as ‘halo’ and ‘Mum’, as not delivering negative feedback can be extremely disadvantageous for both the individual and the organization. Moreover, by changing the way in which performance feedback is delivered, it is possible to fact mitigate the negative consequences of unfavourable feedback with favourable characteristics.